Many Australians consider their pets a part of the family. According to the RSPCA, more than six out 10 Australian households own one, with an estimated 25 million pets kept across the country.
The majority are cats and dogs, of course. But there are also more than 1 million pets that are categorised as ‘other’, which many people might consider a bit odd, even weird.
And with more Australians forsaking the quarter-acre block for apartment living, an emerging trend is favouring this other category, made up mostly of indoor pets, according to Amazing Amazon pet shop owner Ben Moore.
Mr Moore nominated exotic pets, especially those living in a tank, as an ideal option for apartment dwellers.
“There has definitely been a lot of interest around these animals as they are clean and make no noise,” said Mr Moore.
Werribee’s U-Vet clinic, meanwhile, has a team dedicated to the care of exotic pets: reptiles, amphibians, birds, rats and ferrets, even sugar glider possums, are not unusual guests.
U-Vet’s Sasha Herbert, who focuses her veterinary skills on caring for exotic and unusual pets, says she is happy to work with all creatures great and small.
“Sometimes people might come in with their chicken and they’ll apologise for bringing in that chicken and loving that chicken,” said Dr Herbert. “But, to me, every animal is equal.
“People have an expectation of what is a normal pet, and some won’t understand why somebody would want to own a rabbit or a rat.”
But small animals such as rabbits, rats and ferrets can have traits that people only expect in a dog, while some animals have characteristics and abilities that are often overlooked, Dr Herbert added.
Many mammals, for example, are capable of creating strong bonds with humans and can even be trained.
Cathy Skinner, who has been breeding rats for six years and currently has 10 of her own, says they make ideal indoor pets but have long been maligned unfairly.
“Rats aren’t vermin; they don’t smell, and they did not start the plague,” she protested, before adding: “Rats are very intelligent; they’re very cuddly and they love human interaction.”
Rats are actually considered one of the cleanest pets to keep, according to animal rights group PETA. Rats groom themselves several times a day, and are less likely than a cat or dog to catch and transmit viruses or parasites.
As rats are also very sociable, Ms Skinner suggested that people wanting to keep a rat as a pet should get at least two.
“They are colony animals, so they need another rat to cuddle up to while their [owner] is away.”
Rats were perfect pets for people living in apartments, or with a lifestyle that would not allow enough time for a dog, suggested Ms Skinner. This was due to the limited space they occupied and their nocturnal nature.
“Rats will sleep most of the day, and when you get home they will be excited to have a play or run around on the couch while you watch television,” said Ms Skinner.
In addition to mammals, reptiles, turtles and insects are other options for people with limited space or who are balancing a busy career, according to breeders and sellers.
Allan Richter, who has owned Fine Pets hobby store in Keilor East for the past 10 years, says he loves hanging out with snakes, lizards and other animals when he gets to work.
“I get to be around interesting animals all day,” he said. “I can’t wait to come to work.”
Mr Richter suggests that turtles make good pets for children as they can be taken out of their tank and can roam around the house under supervision.
A licence is not required for Murray Short-Neck turtles. However, owners need to be prepared to upgrade their tanks as the turtles can grow to the size of a dinner plate and can live for more than 30 years.
“They are like a family legacy,” added Mr Richter. “Turtles will often be bought for a child and will still be around when the child leaves the family home.”
Amazing Amazon’s Mr Moore recommends bearded dragon lizards as ideal pets for people interested in owning their first reptile. This was because of their minimal care requirements, inexpensive licence and, most importantly, their friendly nature.
Mr Richter agreed. “They are like the Bob Marleys of the reptile world. They’ll just sit on your shoulder acting cool.”